The Bad Boy Billionaire's Girl Gone Wild by Maya Rodale

Chapter One

Park Bar

New York City

WHAT THE HELL had just happened? I stood there, teetering on four-inch heels with the traffic of Tenth Avenue speeding past. Glancing back, the party raged on without me. Everyone was celebrating Duke Austen’s startup, Project-TK, snagging 150 million dollars of investment funding.

I had helped him secure that money by posing as Duke’s Good Girl Fiancé; as a prim, proper, librarian who tended to wear sweater sets, I fit the bill. He had a bad reputation and an engagement with the likes of me demonstrated that he was reformed, responsible, and someone you could trust with hundreds of millions of dollars. In return for my, ahem, services rendered, he was going to be my hot, successful date for my looming high school reunion so that I seemed hot and successful instead of the failure that I felt like when I lost my job, my boyfriend, and my future.

Duke and I—we had a deal.

But now, that deal might be off.

The front of the bar was completely open to the street. I could see Duke inside, surrounded by beautiful women ready to put out when he said the word. Admirers, sycophants, and tech industry titans fawned over him and were now ready to welcome him into their ranks even though they had mocked and doubted him before. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Including me. But while they wanted Duke Austen, brilliant and successful entrepreneur, I wanted Duke Austen, the man whose kisses made me melt.

Our gazes locked. Was that longing? Or was I projecting? I had this awful habit of reading too much into everything.

So I turned and walked away, reminding myself that our “engagement” was totally pretend. Or it was supposed to be. It was a great idea in theory—until our lips locked and I was hooked.

My phone vibrated with a text message.

Sam Chase: I snagged two seats at the bar for us.

I quickened my pace as much as I could while walking in stilettos on the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District. Sam was my high school sweetheart and the man I thought I was going to marry. When he texted earlier tonight, Duke told me to go see him.

The thing was—I wanted to stay with Duke. I wanted it with an intensity that left me off kilter because for so long a life with Sam was everything I had ever wanted.

Ever since senior year, I had our entire lives planned—the wedding, the babies, the house on Brooke Street in the town where we had grown up. I had been expecting a proposal; he dumped me instead because we hadn’t experienced much besides each other.

Now he was in the city for the night and wanted to meet for a drink and Duke was telling me to go see him.

Why did that piss me off so much? Well, I knew why and I didn’t like it. Because our relationship was as real as the cubic zirconia “engagement” ring on my finger, but my feelings for him were true.

I also have to point out that I looked hot. If there was ever a night that I wanted to meet the ex-love-of-my-life, it was when I looked like this. I wore a short, sexy dress with killer heels and a blowout that would put Kate Middleton’s to shame.

So with one last glance behind me, I tottered off into the night.

Employees Only Bar

I STROLLED THROUGH the madness of the Meatpacking District, slowing down as I passed by the entrance to Soho House, where Duke had “proposed” to me. I glanced up to the roof—I could just make out all the fabulous people lounging around, sipping cocktails and enjoying the stunning view of the city. I kept going until I hit Hudson Street, and then I headed south until I found the bar—Employees Only.

There was a fortune-teller in the vestibule. I lingered for a moment, considering it. Remembering that Sam was inside and waiting, I pushed through the door. The room was warmly lit and had a classic New York speakeasy vibe. Sam was at the bar, nursing a beer.

I paused for a sec, taking in the sight of him. If my life were a movie, Sam would be played by Ben Affleck. God, I had loved that man (Sam, not Ben). He was a boyishly handsome, broad-shouldered guy who could have been a Ralph Lauren model if he weren’t so brainy. No wonder I’d crushed on him since freshman year. No wonder I did everything I could to hold onto him. No wonder I cried for weeks after he broke up with me. A girl doesn’t find a guy with looks, smarts, and sensitivity like his every day.

As if sensing me, Sam looked up. His smile took my breath away. I stepped carefully through the crowd of people on my way over to him.

There he was. Sam. Love of my life.

“Jane . . . wow. You look . . .” He stood and looked me up and down. I smiled because I had left him speechless.

I looked gorgeous, fierce. More to the point, I looked utterly different from the small town girl he’d known. And loved. And dumped.

“It’s good to see you, Sam.”

“You’re all done up,” he said. There was an appreciative, almost possessive, sparky gleam in his eye. It’d been a while since he looked at me like that.

“I was out at a party,” I replied, twisting my “engagement ring” round and round my finger.

“With that billionaire fiancée of yours?” Sam asked, lifting an eyebrow as I climbed on the bar stool beside him.

“There was a party celebrating Duke’s startup. They just secured a 150 million dollar investment,” I explained.

“If he has a billion bucks, why does he need investors?” Sam asked.

“It’s complicated. Duke explained it to me one night. Thanks to his previous companies, he was a billionaire on paper—but he lost it all. This time, he wanted to seek an investor before he personally bankrupted himself to fund the company.”

There was no doubt in my mind he would have. Duke wanted Project-TK to be a record-breaking success more than anything.

“Let me get you a drink,” Sam said.

“Champagne, please.”

“No more chardonnay?” Sam asked, remembering my usual drink of choice.

“Tonight I’m celebrating,” I said, smiling.

As Sam flagged down the bartender, I took the opportunity to check in on Foursquare because that’s what I did now, after Duke had introduced me to all of the Internet beyond Facebook. I also checked in just in case Duke decided “See you later, Sweater Set” weren’t going to be his last words to me tonight and he felt like dropping in to enact some devastatingly romantic scene.

You know, in case my life suddenly turned into a romantic comedy.

Sam said something.

“Mmm. Sorry, I’m just checking in,” I murmured.

“Look at you. All tech savvy,” Sam remarked. I saw his gaze drop to the iPhone in my hand and the giant diamond on my ring finger.

“And look at that engagement ring. Wow.” He took a swig of his beer.

Correction: it was a giant cubic zirconia ring that I bought from a hotel gift shop when we flew out to San Francisco to meet with investors—and convince them we were engaged and that Duke was reformed.

For a second I worried that Sam would know that it wasn’t a real diamond. But then again, what did he know about buying diamond rings? Nothing. Because he had never bought one for me.

I caught myself inhaling sharply at the cruel thought.

That wasn’t like me. This was Sam. I had known he was The One For Me since I first laid eyes on him in Mrs. Travelluci’s third-period chemistry class during sophomore year. I had always thought so—even when he didn’t. I had even assumed that this ruse with Duke would show Sam that I was desirable again so I could win him back. The thing was—now that the plan might actually be working, my heart longed for Duke.

But I was getting ahead of myself, as I tended to do.

“So what brings you to the city?” I asked. Our hometown of Milford was a short drive from the city—but far enough so that we didn’t come too often or just on a whim, but close enough.

“There’s a conference on the use of pronouns in Ulysses,” Sam said. “Riveting stuff.”

“Indeed,” I replied. We were both book lovers—just different kinds of books.

“I’m also teaching at Montclair University while I interview for positions elsewhere.”

“Really? But you had always planned on Montclair.” Or had that been my plan for him? For us. Along with that house on Brook Street, the Blanc Sur Blanc china, and the couch from Pottery Barn.

“Plans have a way of changing,” he said softly.

“That they do,” I remarked. The uncomfortable silence that followed was mercifully interrupted by the bartender arriving with our drinks: a champagne for me and a pint of Sam Adams for Sam.

“Cheers,” he said, raising his glass to mine. My gaze locked with his familiar brown eyes. “Cheers,” I murmured. We clinked our glasses together and took a sip and I thought about how strange it was to be near him again.

I imagined this moment a thousand times while I rode the subway on my way to work at the New York Public Library, or as I window shopped along Bleeker Street while eating a Magnolia Bakery cupcake or as I lay in bed at night listening to the sound of taxi horns blaring and sirens wailing.

The last time I had seen him was an awkward encounter in the kitchen of the house we rented. The lease was in his name and I had made an absurd, grief-induced declaration of moving to New York City, so I was the one packing up my things and the life we shared. I’d just gathered the last of my stuff and had bit back sobs as I left my key on the middle of the kitchen table when he came home unexpectedly.

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